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Letter: Guildford Has Waited Too Long for North Street Regeneration

Published on: 23 Jun, 2022
Updated on: 23 Jun, 2022

From: John Rigg

Lead councillor for Major Projects and R4GV borough councillor for Holy Trinity

In response to: comment from Bibhas Neogi on Stakes Could Not Be Higher for North Street Plan

Another thoughtful letter from Bibhas Neogi. Moving the bus station to a prime riverside site on Bedford Wharf has been considered a number of times over the decades, and for many reasons repeatedly rejected.

However, to provide some further background, it is relevant and important to recognise that GBC is neither a bus operator nor the bus transport authority. In fact, all funding for bus services, bus stops and bus stations is the responsibility of Surrey County Council. It’s the body responsible for funding bus services across Surrey. It’s one of the reasons SCC, together with Surrey Police, receives 91p in the pound of our rates but GBC only 9p.

It is only because of a historical arrangement that GBC has ended up providing the current bus station for so many years. And this, of course, is at a cost to our ratepayers. Neither bus operators nor SCC contribute to running costs, repairs or maintenance.

SCC has expressed no wish to fund new or existing bus stations in Guildford. GBC simply does not have any funding for a change of location. The North Street developer is unwilling to pay for a new bus station on top of the many other benefits we are now already securing from it in connection with North Street.

The North Street site has remained derelict for three decades or more now and successive councils have failed to secure its development. The bus station has deteriorated over this period.

It is worth pointing out that GBC owns less than 20 per cent of the site of the new North Street development. In exchange for that, we have negotiated a pedestrianised North Street and a refurbished bus station with a north in-north out entry and exit, thereby removing thousands of bus movements from the gyratory that would otherwise feed into North Street.

This will ease congestion and pollution. No longer will there be the dangerous conflict between pedestrians and buses between Friary Street and the Friary shopping centre.

Altogether, I suggest these gains will amount to a very favourable outcome for our town.

We have also achieved a reduction in the height and massing of the residential elements even before the planning application is submitted. The application will now be to accommodate 500 homes rather than the 735 originally requested.

This lower number of homes will still help revive our town centre, create a new neighbourhood and bring hugely important income for our struggling retail offer, both onsite and across North Street and the High Street.

In undertaking the consultation on the North Street proposals, it became clear residents wanted the bus station to be as near as possible to the retail areas, not to the station.

Nor is it ideal to allocate a valuable riverside site for parking buses. It should instead offer new homes. The traffic implications would also be considerable. There are other disadvantages. Shoppers arriving by bus at Bedford Wharf would have to cross a very busy Onslow Street to access the town. These are factors that have been weighed in the balance over many years of discussion and inaction.

After decades of suffering the derelict North Street site, we will finally hope we will get new homes in the town centre and a newly refurbished bus station adjoining the Friary, next to a reinvigorated North Street.

We are replacing busy, polluting roads with pedestrian safe areas, a better market, new public squares and open spaces, along with safer cycling provision.

We are not yet home and dry with this proposal. It has to receive planning consent.

Hitherto we have had a poor record for delivering regeneration. Guildford has suffered unnecessarily as a result. I hope this time there may be enough of us who say: “Yes, let’s make it happen!”

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test 2 Responses to Letter: Guildford Has Waited Too Long for North Street Regeneration

  1. Helen Avery Reply

    June 23, 2022 at 4:31 pm

    Every council is struggling money-wise and yet in recent years, Chester, Portsmouth and Truro have all built new bus stations.

    Guildford’s is filthy, has no toilets and the council should be ashamed. For a town that wants to be a city, there is no excuse.

  2. S Callanan Reply

    June 24, 2022 at 2:13 pm

    I may have misunderstood. Cllr Rigg says: “It is worth pointing out that GBC owns less than 20 per cent of the site of the new North Street development. In exchange for that, we have negotiated a pedestrianised North Street and a refurbished bus station with a north in, north out entry and exit, thereby removing thousands of bus movements from the gyratory that would otherwise feed into North Street.”

    Is he really saying that GBC traded whatever percentage (less than 20 per cent) of the freehold of the new North Street development for a refurb of the bus station and some traffic improvements?

    If that’s not what he’s saying, what is it? Some might think that holding 20 per cent of the land needed for an important development would give the holder a distinct advantage in the negotiation. But maybe not.

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